Networks of solidarity
Activities at the Euro-African Borders
By Cornelia Gunßer
European governments already cooperate with the governments of the countries of transition and origin on all levels. However, their policies are contradictory: The EU borders will never be completely closed – not only because certain capital fractions, for gaining maximum profit, count on a ethnically hierachized labour market with illegal migrants lacking rights. But also because people struggling for bare existence will not be kept away by barbed wire and control boats. This exclusionary policy of the governments tacitly accepts the death of those who are not welcome. If we intend to build up resistance to such circumstances we will have to create networks on a transnational level: with refugees here, with their fellow countrymen ‘at home’ and on the way, with human rights organizations in Europe, in the countries of transit and of origin. The aim is to assert access to Europe, to achieve equal rights here and to organize resistance against deportation. Finally, the aim is to achieve political and social human rights for all people.”
I wrote down these words more than four years ago as summary of an article titled “The European War against Refugees” (1). I have been asked several times in public meetings how this might “work”: networking with refugees and migrants in the countries of transit and origin. I found this difficult to put this into practice at that time. In the meantime, however, such networks have developed between Europe and Africa. In this paper I wish to tell about one of these networks and the stages of its development: the “Euro-African Manifesto” network (2) established in summer 2006 I took part in founding. A survey of the conferences, activities and declarations are available in English on the Hamburg Refugees Council website (3).
Polycentric World Social Forum in Bamako
The impulse for a Euro-African migration network came from the „Bamako Call for Respect and Dignity for all Migrants” decided on by the Bamako (Mali) World Social Forum held in January 2006. This forum had been overshadowed by the dramatic incidents at the fences of the Spanish enclaves of Ceute and Melilla in September and October 2005, when numerous migrants were killed and hundreds wounded by the border guards when trying to throw down the fences. Also it took place under the impression of the bloody repression of refugee protests in Cairo at the end of 2005 when many refugees had been shot by anti-insurgence units. In the Bamako call it says:
„In the name of the fight against clandestine immigration, governments implement a repressive policy with the externalisation of wealthy countries borders through camps, refoulements, deportations and labour force selection. Those policies lead to dramas such as in Ceuta and Melilla, deaths in the desert, in the Mediterranean sea or in the Rio Grande.
We propose to build at the international level a solidarity union against these murderous policies, between civil societies, NGOs, social movements and associations …
From Bamako to Nairobi, we suggest to devote a year for an international mobilization dedicated to the right of every person to freely circulate around the world and to decide on one’s own futur.
The following proposals stem from several seminars dedicated to migrations, hold during the Social Forum in Bamako:
1. We call for the creation of an international network for the exchange of informations and actions for the rights of all migrants.
2. We call for the implemtentation of a focus on «migrations» in the preparation of Nairobi 2007.
3. We propose the creation of an International Mobilization Day which can take place in places which symbolize the borders (airports, detention camps, embassies…) :
- against the special regime reserved for the migrants
- against the repressive policy of migration
- for the closing of camps and for the free circulation of people“
The Euro-African summit in Rabat in spring 2006 was aimed to be the first step of this mobilization.
The „day of mobilization“ proposed in the Bamako call has also been taken up and endorsed by the “assembly of migrants” at the European Social Forum in May 2006 in Athens. On the initiative of a Morocco migrant association the date for the day of mobilization has been fixed to October 7-in order to commemorate the dreadful events in Ceute and Melilla. The same assembly proposed a counter-summit to the first Euro-African government summit on “migration and development”. This was to take place on July 10th and 11th, 2005 in Rabat.
“Migration, Fundamental Rights and Freedom of Movement” – a non-governmental Euro-African conference in Morocco
This conference on June 30th to July 1st, 2005 in Harhoura near Rabat has been organized by several associations and individuals of the “migreurop” network coming mainly from France and Belgium as well as Moroccan refugee and human rights associations. To achieve a well balanced representation of European, North and Subsahara African countries only one or two representatives of the associations should be admitted except for Subsahara refugee and migrant associations in Morocco who attended in large number. For funding reasons the conference had to be restricted to about 150 participants. From Morocco human rights associations such as the “Association Marocaine des Droits Humains” (AMDH), whose office organized the conference, very active attac-groups and university teachers were also present. From other North African countries activists from Algeria, Tunesia and, as was reported, also a representative of the human rights league from Libya participated. From Subsahara Africa there were members of several human rights organizations, associations of assistance for families and victims of migration, developmental politics groups and networks for the abolition of debts and for peasants’ rights. They all came from francophone countries: from Mauretania over Senegal, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Guinea to Cameroon and the two Congolese states. From Europe representatives from French, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and German refugee, migrant and human rights organizations attended.
Already during the opening plenum the African perspective was stressed in a way unusual in Germany with respect to its strength and firmness: Migration was explained by Subsahara Africans mainly as a consequence of failed “developmental policies”. It more and more turned to a policy of war and collaboration with pseudo democracies. “Poverty is being installed – and then you wonder that people are coming?” was the question of a Congolese participant. He specifically criticized the EU military mission in his country, the first time with German involvement.
„Europe closes our borders!“ Thierno Ba cited a newspaper headline from the “Cotidien du Sénégal”. He criticized the lack of solidarity among the African countries: “There is no white or black Africa – there is but one Africa!” This one Africa would be capable to achieve something if it respected itself instead of selling itself to Europe.
Also a Moroccan economist criticized that, in the course of a policy of externalization, more and more African governments agreed to act as gendarmes for Europe. The demand for the freedom of movement must apply to all people, not only to the movement of capital. He stressed the necessity of struggle against the increasing racism in the Maghreb. The events in autumn 2005 in the Morocco exclaves Ceuta and Melilla had to be investigated, he stated. With a minute’s silence the participants commemorated the men and women who died at the borders, in the deserts and in the sea. Only three days after the conference again three people were killed at the fence of Melilla.
Claire Rodier, president of migreurop, sharply criticized closed camps in Europe and the policy of „selected migration“, i.e. the tendency that Europe selects migrants according to their usefelness and closes the borders against the others. Fiston Massamba, a Congolese refugee in Morocco, exposed the intolerable situation of migrants and refugees in Morocco. He emphasized the fundamental right of movement. The enormous money transfers of migrants in Europe contributed to the fight against poverty in their home countries. Several participants described migration as “something normal” in human history.
In the afternoon of the first day the discussion continued in four „topic sessions”, which were: fundamental rights, freedom of movement, mobility and re-instalment of the right of asylum; security policy and its consequences; development and repartition of prosperity; admittance and integration policy as well as rights of working migrants.
The first assembly dealt with the question: What kind of freedom of movement do we aim at? With reference to article 13 of the general declaration of human rights of 1948, the right to leave one’s country was defined to be a fundamental human right. This is considered to include the right to settle in another country. Before the obligation to hold a visa was introduced it had been usual for Africans that one family member went to Europe for some time and was replaced by another one later. Today this is hardly possible. To apply for a visa, which in most cases is denied, has become a financial problem. Europeans, by contrast, take it for granted to travel everywhere, to work, to buy houses and to exploit the riches of African countries. In order to terminate this inequality the assembly demanded to abolish all visa for short-term residence. As a long-term perspective many participants regarded abolition of all visa and to introduce a “global passport”. All frontiers should be opened.
In the second part of the discussion on the issue of undermining the right of asylum especially Congolese and Ivory refugees in Morocco fiercely criticized the local UNHCR representation. Most of these refugees got documents from UNHCR awarding them refugee status because of the civil war situation in their countries, in contrast to refugees or migrants from Mali, Senegal, or Gambia, many of whom were deported. However, the UNHCR documents are no help dealing with Moroccan authorities. In case of roundups, officials just tear them up. Refugees are arrested and threatened to be deported. Moreover, they get no funds for living and live either in most expensive shabby houses or in the streets begging, collecting rubbish or live on prostitution.
They do not get work and they are denied treatment when they are sick. They are confronted with increasing racism also of the resident population. Refugees deplored that UNHCR did not guarantee their security neither in physical nor in juridical respect. UNHCR staff were not willing to do that.
On the second day of the conference, a manifesto including the results of the “topic assemblies” was decided. Towards evening we congregated with more than 100 participants and held a vociferous manifestation in front of the Moroccan parliament in Rabat.
During the conference it was proposed to support the call for a transnational action day on migration decided at the European Social Forum (ESF) in Athens and to organize actions in as many European and African countries as possible. More than 25 African organizations signed this call.
Outside Europe actions took place in four African countries (4). The Rabat manifesto formed the basis for creating the “Euro-African manifesto” migration network. Since then members of the network communicate per mailing list in French. They meet at conferences and actions organized by themselves or by other initiatives.
African activists in Heiligendamm
A further opportunity for common Euro-African debates and actions was given in June 2007 in Germany at the occasion of the G8 summit protests in Heiligendamm. Refugee organizations and anti-racist groups organized a network meeting and an action day on the issue of migration during the protests. For this purpose we invited activists from several countries in North and Subsahara Africa, whom we knew from the “manifesto” network or other contacts, to Rostock – partly with assistance of major NGOs who arranged an alternative summit. For one week we lived, discussed and demonstrated together with refugees living in Germany, African activists and European antiracists. This enabled us to become familiar with each other, but also with the different forms of discussion, of organization and of actions. Together, we made experiences with German authorities. The central slogan of our demonstration on June 4 in Rostock, which was heavily impeded by the police, was “Global Freedom of Movement and Equal Rights for All People!”. It explicitly refers to the resolution of the Rabat conference.
At the Border between Morocco and Algeria
Two years after the dramatic events at the fences of the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla Moroccan organizations invited to hold days of commemoration to Oujda/Morocco on October 6 and 7, 2007. A conference and a manifestation relating to the heavy violations of human rights at the frontiers were organized. This meeting had been decided and prepared by the committee following the NGO conference of Rabat in cooperation with local and international organizations.
Oujda, a town situated 12 km from the border to Algeria and not far from the Spanish enclave Melilla had been chosen as location for the following reason: In the last few years the Oujda’s university campus has become a place of refuge for up to 900 migrants on their way to Europe. In the middle of 2008 even 1.500 people stayed there. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2006 and again end of July 2007 the campus was brutally cleared by Moroccan security forces. More than 450 migrants were detained and deported to the – officially closed – Algerian border. Since then periodically roundups and detentions take place in Moroccan towns and in the woods around Ceuta and Melilla. After taking away all objects of value and money the migrants are deported to the nowhereland near the border where Algerian frontier guards drive them back to the Moroccan area by shooting. They return to Qujda by foot where they “live” either on the campus or in so-called “tranquilos”, hiding places in abandoned houses, under rocks or under plastic covers in the woods – places they have to change very often due to the increasing persecution.
The organization ABCDS (Association Beni Zassen pour la culture, le developpement et la solidarité), was originally founded in June 2005 for working with Moroccan youths in the slums. Apart from the local group of the human rights organization AMDH, the catholic priest Père Joseph Lépine and a group of the “Médecins sans frontiers” it is the only organization in Oujda where migrants can find assistance. The ABCDS “field work” mainly consists of practical assistance against attacs of security forces and partly in the provision of covers, clothing and food for the mainly Subsahara African migrants and their “chairmen”. ABCDS names the problem of such “charity” activities as it is neither their intention nor do they have the capacity to do that.
What they intend mainly is “solidarity”, i.e. political assistance for migrants against the murderous EU migration policy and the Moroccan government as their helpers. For this reason national and transnational networking is very important for ABCDS. All these activities are extremely annoying for the officials and are observed meticulously. Up to now ABCDS staff is working without payment, their office and activities for the migrants are financed by private donations and a few European groups.
The conference „Human Rights Violation at the Borders“ on October 6th, 2007 was the first international conference on migration in Oujda and therefore very important for the local organizations. It took place in the rooms of the leftist union UMT in the city. In spite of Ramadan it was frequented by 40 to 50 participants the whole day. The composition of three topic podia was partly changed spontaneously. Each podium was followed by a plenum discussion. The topics were:
- Life at the frontiers, described by migrants and solidarity groups in Morocco
- European migration policies between closure and externalisation
- Migration, (human) rights and globalisation.
The discussion showed that there are similar tendencies of externalisation and precarity in many countries. Therefore it was considered necessary to recognize common interests and to act together against deportation and discrimination. Both the right to live at home in dignity and the right to move for all people are necessary!
A manifestation in the evening at the university campus had been announced to the authorities. 50 of us came by bus from the city to the closed campus gate. Many habitants of the adjacent quarter and about 20 to 30 migrants joined us. Probably there were as many civil policemen present who did, however, not interfere until the end of our action. There was a manifestation with a big banner showing our crucial demands for freedom of movement and human rights for all. We lighted candles and laid down flowers in memory of the victims of the frontier regime. Then a declaration commonly elaborated the night before was read. The event was concluded with the speech of a migrant who denounced the European Union to be responsible for the miserable situation of refugees and migrants in Morocco. The Moroccan people were not hostile to the migrants, she said, but the Moroccan state was paid by the EU for fighting them. In the ABCDS office we had a meal together and talked until long after midnight. The next day there was a network meeting of all groups engaged in order to know each other and to plan further activities.
“African-European-Alternatives” in Lisbon
Several political groupings have jointly organized a conference and a demonstration, in protest against the summit of EU and African leaders early in December 2007 in Lisbon, where “Economic Partnership Agreements” (EPA) were to be negotiated. Conference participants debated the relation between trade liberalization, to which African countries subscribe by joining an EPA, and the development migration. They also criticized the “outsourcing” and shifting abroad of national migration controls, as well as deportations and “temporal migration” programmes. Only few activists from Africa were able to join the conference, since many potential participants were denied their visa. However, many African migrants from Portugal were represented and could hence report on their precarious situation. At the summit, at least some of the African delegations voiced opposition against the EPA, most notably Senegal’s President Wade.
Social Forum in Bouznika/Morocco
In January 2007, the World Social Forum in Nairobi declared January 26th 2008 the worldwide action day. Amongst other things, the Maghrebi Social Forum in Mauretania was to take place at this date, which however was subsequently disallowed by the Mauretanian authorities. Within the organizing committee, opinions diverged about how to proceed. Ultimately, it was decided on very short notice that while the Social Forum should still take place in Morocco, European and African participants would be invited in addition to the activist from Maghrebi countries.
Surprisingly, more than 1.400 people instead of 700 expected came into the youth holiday centre in Bouznika situated at the Atlantic coast between Rabat and Casablanca. Among the participants were many young people from Morocco but also Subsahara migrants living in Morocco. More than 100 activists from other Maghrebi countries, Subsahra Africa and Europe took part, the latter having been invited mainly by the Euro-African manifesto network. Because of the commitment of this transnational network and the strong interest among the Moroccan youths migration became one of the main subjects of the forum.
During the opening it became known that in several quarters in Rabat roundups against migrants had taken place. As a reaction several hundred youths, migrants and members of the Euro-African network formed a circle on the central place of the centre. They scanded slogans for solidarity with the detained persons, for legalization of the sans-papiers, and equal rights for all, against collaboration of the Arab governments with the EU and the disdain of the rights of the poor in Maghreb countries. Some short speeches were held by participants from different countries. The young Moroccans showed their solidarity with the Subsahara migrants not only by the protest actions and proposing political declarations, but also they invited the migrants to join them for dancing to Arab disco music late in the evening.
Next day the workshop on migration policy was attended by about 300 people. Criticism concentrated on the policy of roundups and deportations in Morocco and the EU as well as the readmission agreements of deported persons and the general collaboration of the governments of the countries of transit and of origin with the EU. Also the so-called “Kleenex”-migration was a topic which describes the practice to use migrants like a paper handkerchief and throw it away afterwards, i.e. to send them back.
For example it was stated that Moroccan women hired for picking strawberries in Spain and France are preferably chosen if they have little children to make sure they will go back. Another example are detention centres and camps for migrants to be deported. Amadou M’Bow, an activist from Mauretania who had been invited to join the G8-protests in Rostock was shocked when visiting the camp Horst in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Participants claimed that walls should be breached and overcome as Palestinians did in Gaza. Initiatives in the North and the South should fight together the war waged on migrants.
The last morning an „Assembly of Migrants“ took place – parallel to assemblies of youths, women, unionists and other groups. It had been prepared and carried through by migrants mainly from Subsahara Africa. Each of the 30 present organizations of migrants and supporters was asked to present itself and its work. Proposals for future common activities were collected. The essential issues which were consensual in the assembly were published by the preparation group in a declaration. Groups from Europe proposed to African initiatives to take part in a transnational action chain.
The transnational action chain on migration
Following the action days for global freedom of movement and right of residence, members of the European “frassanito” network had set up a call for a transnational action chain (February to October 2008) against the border regime, against detention and deportation, against exploitation of migrant labour and for legalization of all migrants. This action chain should serve as a step to link various struggles and to initiate cross-border communication and organization.
Conferences and actions took place in Amsterdam, Sevilla, Turin, Athen, London, Hamburg und Malmö. Also a meeting in Bamako/Mali was part of the transnational action chain. There the AME (Association of Deported Malian Migrants), member of the manifeste Euro-African, organized a conference on March 15th and 16th, 2008. Deported people reported their experiences, plays were shown and the EU border regime prolonged down to Mali was a target of protest. Activists from Europe participated in the conference. The other way round a human rights activist from Mauretania was invited to an action at the beginning of June in front of the headquarter of the EU Frontier Guard Agency Frontex in Warschau.
On the European Social forum in September 2008 in Malmö the action chain was evaluated. A representative of the AME reported about the forthcoming opening of CIGEM, a Center for Migration Control in Bamako financed by the EU, and about readmission agreements with European governments. The action days in the beginning of October around Ceuta and Melilla formed the last link in the chain. At the same time they were part of the African mobilizations against the 2nd EU-Africa government summit in Paris which had been shortly postponed from October 20th/21st to November 25th, 2008.
Actions around the EU-Africa summit „Migration and Development“ in Paris
On October 15th /16th, 2008 a EU government summit in Brussels decided a “European Pact on Immigration and Asylum”. At a second Euro-African conference on ministerial level on “Migration and Development” at the end of November in Paris this pact should be pressed on the African “partners”. It contains proposals for “selected immigration” according to labour demand of European countries, measures for tightened border control, for the further development of Frontex, new observation technologies and readmission agreements with countries of transit and of origin.
European NGOs, networks such as the French RESF (Education across borders) and European migrant organizations together with “manifeste Euro-African” organized a counter summit including a conference on October, 17th in Montreuil against these government conferences, the “pact” as well as guidelines for deportation already decided by the European Parliament. The next day they planned a demonstration and a concert in the city of Paris. The conference was attended by 700 – 900 people: the demonstration was frequented by 3000 – 4000 people, the majority of them African sans papiers living in France (5).
In order to make visible African protest actions although because of the lack of visa and money only few Africans could come to Paris the Euro-African migration network organized a caravane beforehand, including meetings, press conferences and actions in several African countries. The caravan started in the DR Kongo on September 4th. On September 8th it continued in Mali, on September 10th in Mauretania, on October 3rd in Cameroon, on October 6th / 7th in Benin and from October 8th – 12th the actions mentioned above took place in Morocco.
Towards the end of 2008 the African Social Forum took place in Niamey/Niger, where the opening demonstration on November 25th, 2008 incidentally fell on the same date as the start of the EU-Africa government summit in Paris – a reason for several initiatives for further demonstrations and meetings. Also in 2009 several summits of the governments might give reasons for protests and demonstrations.
This fact, however, marks a dilemma in transnational networking. It cannot be the main purpose to try to keep up with government summits and to jet from one conference and demonstration to the next. Apart from the fact that hardly anybody can afford this, activists from Africa as well as refugees living in Europe will mostly get no visa for such activities. More important is to use the existing contacts in order to interrelate local struggles, everyday conflicts and local/regional actions, to learn from and to strengthen each other. In this field the internet is an important instrument. The exchange of information is nowadays no longer a big problem, rather the tremendous flood of information.
In spite of all technical means of communication available today – even in most African regions – it still makes a difference to get to know people and their living conditions, their struggles and conflicts (the same as here among us) in other countries. For this purpose it is indispensable to have at least a minimum knowledge of the language of the others. This is a lack of the Euro-African network: the fact that communication is almost entirely in French language, this excludes not only Europeans who did not study this language, but also all those Africans in who’s countries other colonial languages (English or Portuguese) are spoken, not to speak of those who did not learn any European language in school. These problems of communication in other languages in conferences requiring good interpreters as recently experienced at the European Social Forum in Malmö, have not been appropriately considered. This might be one reason why networking with activists from Eastern Europe and Asia has been so weakly developed up to now.
One effort to overcome language and other barriers is the multilingual transnational newsletter “crossing borders”. In the meantime groups from several continents are engaged in production and translation. With continuous contacts, common actions, invitations and visits the existing networks installed among basis activists between Africa and Europe movements in various regions could be supported, strengthened and put on a new transnational level. With the Euro-African migration network it worked to build up relations to other “issues”, such as global agriculture or debts and organizations working on these issues. The demands for freedom of movement and equal social and political rights for all people have thus been introduced into a broader public.
In May 2009 the network “Bridges Instead of Walls” founded on the Paris counter summit published a call including demands for the elections for the European parliament which was signed by many organizations but did not receive a great public interest.
In Morocco up to 200 refugees from Subsahara Africa organized a “sit in” in front of the UNHRC office in Rabat in June/July 2009, demanding their “resettlement” in other countries as their rights were not respected in Morocco. Instead of seriously negotiating with them the UNHCR representative called the police. The refugees were heavily beaten, five of them were detained for four weeks, brought to trial and could only be freed by the pressure of political supporters. In Europe this action found little resonance. (More details under http://no-racism.net/thema/115/)
In 2009 public interest about refugees shifted to Greece, the new “gateway” to Europe. In order to exchange experiences from other border regions and to create common activities African activists from Morocco, Mali and Mauretania were invited in August 2009 to the no-border camp at Lesbos island in Greece. However, the Moroccan authorities denied a visa for Greece to the representative from Morocco, a man from Guinea.
The manifesto network suffered a crisis caused by internal conflicts and the situation of refugees and migrants in the transit countries becoming more and more precarious. By meetings and common actions with activists from Africa, however, several groups tried to keep the contact alive and to continue the discussion on how common transnational action could be put into practice. The visits of AME representatives (Association of Deported from Mali) have played an important role in this context and finally initiated the foundation of an African-European network also in Germany.
(1) Published in: analyse + kritik (ak) dated 19.11.2004.
(2) website in French language: http://www.manifeste-euroafricain.org/
(4) The call may be found under: www.fluechtlingsrat-hamburg.de (ESF May 4-7, 2006) as well as the manifesto of the Rabat conference and a detailed report (conference date June 30 / July 1, 2006).
(5) As to the counter summit see: www.despontspasdesmurs.org and www.fluechtlingsrat-hamburg.de (conference date).
Citation: Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie (Hg.) – Jahrbuch 2009